The next thirty hours sped by faster than any of my life. In record time, I'd been booked, arraigned by special order of the ADA, and held without bail. I'd never seen the justice system work this quickly. I supposed a part of me ought to be flattered.
It wasn't until I'd totally lost track of what day it was that I'd been escorted into a room with a metal table and two chairs. I was plunked into one, and a beat later the door opened again, and Aiden sat in the other.
He placed down a beige file, averting his eyes from mine. Wimp. His hair tufted up at the ears and dark crescents hugged his eyes. He looked worse than I did, and I'd spent the night praying for sleep on a mattress thinner than my patience.
This was the first time I'd been alone with him since I’d been arrested. The cops had interrogated me yesterday, along with my public defender—an older man with white hair and a beard that resembled Santa. The only time I'd seen Aiden was in the courtroom that morning when a judge, wielding an angry gavel, agreed with him that I was a flight risk and needed to be remanded without bail. Waterston's colleague barely listened to Santa's request for bond. A fair trial wasn't possible.
In addition to the need for a shower, hot latte, and something with a lower polyester blend than the fabulous orange jumpsuit I was sporting, I wanted to scream, tear up Aiden's documents, and scratch his eyes out. But I didn't need more evidence of my temper, so I sat still, balling my fists under the table as I watched him avoid me.
"You can't even look me in the eye," I said, making the first move.
His head shot up, his eyes finally meeting mine.
Then quickly looking away again.
"You have to understand that some things are out of my control," he said, his voice way more apologetic than I'd anticipated.
"I am not a flight risk," I told him. "Where would I fly to?"
He blinked and straightened his tie. In a thick voice he said, "I didn't have a choice."
"We all have choices, Aiden. I chose to trust you. You chose to stab me in the back."
He crinkled his brow. "That's not true."
"Ha!" My laugh came out over-the-top and maniacal, kinda matching my mood. "What the hell do you call what happened in the park? The police just happened to show up?"
He paused. "That wasn't me. I didn't call them."
"Then who did?" I asked, not believing him for a second.
"I don't know. They got a tip."
"How convenient," I said, leaning back in my chair.
"I'm not lying to you, Jamie," he insisted.
"Fine," I said, calling his bluff. "Then who sent in the tip?"
"It was anonymous. But the police traced it to a gym in North Hollywood." He looked down at his notes. "Crunches."
I knew the place.
I felt heat radiate through my body, making me dizzy and wish for a paper bag. Or a bucket.
That was where Danny worked out. There was that coincidence again.
Aiden leaned forward and lowered his voice. "I haven't lied to you, Jamie. About anything. Every word was the truth."
I wasn't sure if the lowered voice was so those on the other side of the mirror-like glass couldn't hear his declaration of honesty, or to create a false sense of intimacy before he interrogated me.
"Well this," I said, gesturing around me, "isn't exactly a vote of confidence in me. I thought you said you believed me."
He gave me a long look. "My personal feelings don’t matter. I'm still bound by the law."
Personal feelings? My mind jumped on the word, an image of the cute, flirtatious Aiden I'd met at the fundraiser momentarily flickering across my mind. It seemed like a lifetime ago. I quickly shoved any "personal feelings" I may have had about it aside, focusing on his words as he continued.
"I told you it doesn't matter what I believe," he said. "It matters what I can—"
"Prove," I finished for him. "I know."
He clamped his lips together, looking pained, like he wanted to say more, but his listeners on the other side of the glass prevented it. "I'm sorry."
"Join the club," I mumbled back. I waited as silence hung in the room. Then asked, "Did Danny tip you off that I was at his place yesterday, too?"
Aiden shook his head. "We had eyes on his apartment."
I nodded. I should have expected that. I was so blinded by my anger at Danny that I wasn't thinking clearly. He was my closest friend—or so I'd thought. Of course the police would be watching his place for me.
"We figured you'd show up eventually," Aiden explained, confirming my suspicions. "From what I could find, you seem close to him."
My stomach tightened. "Seemed."
He cocked his head at the past tense, but didn't ask me to elaborate.
"So what now?" I asked.
Aiden purposely averted his eyes again. "Now I have to ask you some questions."
"Fine." I crossed my arms over my chest. "But I don't have to answer without Sant—" I stopped myself just in time. "My public defender present."
"It would be to your benefit to answer," Aiden informed me.
"I doubt that."
"Jamie, the police found the gun that killed Judge Waterston."
Lead pooled in my stomach, sinking me farther into the hard chair.
"And?" I asked, knowing there was an and, and dreading it with all my heart.
He sighed deeply. "Your fingerprints are on it."
I blinked hard. This wasn't real. I never touched any gun but my own, which had been on my person when they'd arrested me.
"Can you explain that?" Aiden asked, his eyes searching mine as if he truly hoped I could.
I just slowly shook my head back and forth.
Again with the deep sigh. "We found something in your purse," he continued. He pulled a clear baggie out of the file, sliding it across the table to me. In it were the two Shooting Stars Garret had given me.
Fab. I closed my eyes and did a couple why me?’s.
"Where did you get them?" Aiden asked.
I didn't respond.
"I want to help you, Jamie, but you have to trust me."
I opened my eyes. "I'm sorry if trust is a commodity I'm a little short on these days," I shot back.
Aiden's gaze shot through me, the line of his jaw hardening. "Look, this is no game here, Jamie. We potentially have enough evidence to put you away for a very long time. You have to give me something if you want me to help you."
I gave him a long, hard look.
Then told him, "No more questions without my attorney."
* * *
An hour later, back in my cell, I stared up at the chipping paint on the ceiling. Santa had arrived and tried to field Aiden's questions, but even with his presence, I'd refused to answer any of them. Mostly because I didn't have answers.
They'd informed me that my preliminary hearing was scheduled for the morning. At this rate, I'd be tried and convicted before my scrumptious dinner of canned beans arrived.
"I know you from somewhere," said my just-arrived roomie, a tall, linebacker-type woman with a pink, jagged scar that stood out prominently on her dark brown skin. It ran from her left ear to somewhere beneath her collar. Definitely not someone I wanted to tousle with. She could probably snap me in half and use me as a toothpick.
I shrugged, pretending the ceiling was beyond fascinating. "I don't recall." Nor did I want to. I doubted she was a wife of a cheating husband. I'd have remembered her.
She slapped her thigh, and I was certain the echo could be heard all the way in Orange County. "This is going to drive me crazy."
I sighed. God forbid. "Maybe from TV. My face has been plastered all over it for the past few days."
"I seen that. The judge murderer. Good for you. They think they're superior and can boss people around. He probably got what was coming to him."
I swallowed hard, never having met someone so pro-murder before.
"But nah, that ain't it," she argued shaking her head. "I know you from someplace else."
Desperately wanting this game of twenty questions to end, I said, "I'm a PI."
Another slap, or this time it might have been a punch. "That's it!" She shouted so loud, I flinched. "You helped my friend, Tanya, discover her husband's a cheating pig. She got full custody of the kids and made out with a hefty settlement."
I looked over. "Tanya Bridge?"
The linebacker's face broke out into a huge grin. "That's right. You done right by her. She's heard he's remarried and cheating on that wife, too. Some people never change."
She swung her legs onto her bed, leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes. "As far as I'm concerned, you deserve a medal for killing that judge. I'm sure you had a good reason."
If I ended up in prison, I wanted her as a cellmate.
I turned back to the ceiling as she lapsed into silence again.
The worst part about jail—even worse than the canned beans and polyester attire—was that it gave you way too much time to think. Danny, Aiden, and Derek circled through my mind. The men in my life. Depressing thought.
Danny had betrayed me, he'd turned me into the cops, and he may have even set me up for murder, or at least played a significant part in it. He'd also been my closest friend for more years than I could count. So, who was he really?
Aiden, on the other hand, was much more straightforward. He was The Law. Evidence, proof, do the right thing even if you know that on some level it's the wrong thing. I had to admire that to some extent. My whole life Derek had taught me to work the system, skirt the grey areas of the law in search of the truth. Meeting someone who so honorably stuck to his code of ethics was oddly refreshing. Even if his code currently had me sitting in a cell with Lady Linebacker.
Which brought me to Derek. I wondered what he was doing, what he thought of his daughter now. Ever since I'd taken over the business, I'd felt like he was waiting for me to prove him right, that he hadn't made a mistake entrusting a former model with a PI firm. And this wasn't exactly the way to do it.
Then Judge Waterston's face floated to the surface of my conscience. He'd been my big fish, my ticket to staying in the black. But he wasn't actually any different than Tanya's husband. In fact, he'd been even easier to reel in, ready to jump on any chance at infidelity that sashayed his way. While the woman who had hired me was fake, the reason for the hire was real. He had been a cheater as sure as Tanya's husband had.
I was replaying my case file on the judge for the tenth time in my head when a uniformed cop stopped at our cell.
"You still want that phone call, Bond?" His squeaky voice matched his pimply face.
I jumped up. I hadn't been able to get in touch with anyone yesterday and had ended up leaving a message with Caleigh. I nodded vigorously.
He led me to a phone at an empty desk in the squad room and cuffed me to a drawer.
I rolled my eyes. How very dramatic. Did he really think I'd try to escape in a room full of cops?
Well, okay, so maybe I'd try.
I cradled the receiver between my ear and shoulder and punched in the numbers to the office. Someone please answer.
On the second ring, Maya's beautiful voice filled my ear. "Bond Agency. Loved one missing? Spouse cheating? We're your shaken and not stirred solution."
We seriously needed to work on that greeting.
"Ohmigod, boss. Are you okay? I'm putting you on speaker." I heard her calling to Sam and Caleigh, heels scurrying closer to the phone.
"I'm fine," I reassured her.
"I'm so sorry I didn't answer," Caleigh's voice came on. "After I listened to your message, I called the station, but they wouldn't let me talk to you."
Afraid time would run out and Pimply would wrench the receiver from my hand, I cut her off. "My preliminary hearing is in the morning."
"We'll be there." Sam's words were calm and reassuring. "What do you need?"
"To get out. Bail was denied."
A low gasp circled their end of the call. I prayed they got my message. I assumed conversations on the police phones were recorded, and I couldn't take the chance of elaborating.
It could be months before the trial was scheduled, and there was no way I was staying here that long. Not while the real killer was out there enjoying my share of the fresh air and sunshine.
"What else?" Maya asked.
I paused a moment. Then on a whim answered, "Dig up everything you can on Waterston."
"We already did a profile when we were hired," Maya protested.
"I know. But I need more. Specifically about women he may have worked with, socialized with, belonged to his country club."
"His affairs," Sam concluded.
"Right." While I'd been distracted by the frame-up job (and rightfully so), what this case was really about was one dead judge. And somewhere in his past had to be the arrow pointing to a golden motive.
"Is there anything else we can bring you? Anything you need?" Caleigh asked again.
I shook my head. "No. I'm fine." Which was far from the truth, but I wasn't going down without a fight. "Just get everything you can and be here tomorrow for the hearing."
"You got it, boss," she agreed, then hung up.
I held the silent receiver to my ear a moment longer, crossing my fingers they found something. Something had to give in this case.
And it wasn't going to be me.
* * *
Later that afternoon, after wearing a hole in the tile and listening to Lady Linebacker's numerous stories about life in the 'hood, Pimply Cop returned. I had a visitor.
He led me to a room much like the one I'd seen Aiden in and cuffed my ankles to the metal table. Pumped with excitement that the girls had found something so soon, I practically bounced in the metal chair.
But when the door opened, the grin died on my face. Instead of seeing long legs, flawless skin, and hair any woman would kill for, ripped jeans, a five o'clock shadow, and a glum expression greeted me.
He was the last person I expected to see. He took the chair across from me and immediately reached out and grabbed my hands. He gave a small squeeze and sniffled.
I concentrated hard on not losing it in front of him. Girly girls cried when their dads visited them in prison. PIs didn't.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, glad my voice didn't betray the tears backing up in my throat.
"The one with the legs called and told me."
I laughed, emotion bubbling up from me before I could stop it. "They all have legs, Derek."
A corner of his mouth lifted, and he released my hands, sitting up straight. "Are you alright? You know to cover your face and bob and weave, right?"
I nodded. "I'm fine. This isn't Alcatraz."
"Hey, I've seen prison movies."
"Yeah, rented from a back room for some girl on girl action, right?"
His laughter filled the room, and whether I wanted to admit it or not, it comforted me.
"I called Levine," he told me. "You need a better attorney. You need better than some overworked public defender."
I shook my head. "Levine doesn't do criminal defense."
"Yeah, that's what he told me, too," Derek said, as if he didn't believe him. All lawyers were the same to Derek—a necessary evil.
"It's okay. The PD is fine."
We both knew that was a load of crap, but what else could I say? Besides, the truth was out there, and my girls were going to uncover it.
He got that distant look in his eyes, as if his thoughts were miles away. "You're just like her, you know."
Was I supposed to know which of his many women he was referring to?
He cupped my hand again. "Your mother."
I held my breath, not expecting that one.
"She wouldn't have wanted me to see her cry either."
That did it. Tears leaked from my eyes.
Derek reached across the table and brushed one off my cheek. "Buck up, kid," he said, his voice thick. "You're a fighter, just like she was. And we Bonds always come out on top."
Oh how I prayed he was right.